“Where is the Where?”

A stirring post on the McLean’s blog today, composed almost entirely of a speech given by Ken Dryden today:

From these first 13 days, it is clear that Mr. Harper has decided this election is about him. He’s saying to Canadians: I’m a leader.  I know what I want – I’m decisive – I deliver.  And that, he says, is leadership.  And in uncertain economic and global times, he says, Canadians need that and want that.  But what Mr. Harper confuses is the posture of leadership, and the substance of leadership.  Leadership is .  .  . leading – getting others to follow.  But critically, fundamentally, leadership is direction.  It is going  .  .  . somewhere.  The question is “where”?  Leadership matters because the “where” matters, and it’s the job of a Prime Minister to know better than anyone else what the best “where” is.  For the country.  For your life and my life.  That’s real leadership.

As a golfer, I can hit the ball a long way.  The problem is I can’t hit it in the right direction.  And a ball hit – decisively, competently – in the wrong direction is a ball that goes further and further and further into the woods.  History is filled with leaders who have competently, decisively gone in the wrong direction with disastrous results.

Where is Mr. Harper’s “where”?

He doesn’t seem to want to talk about that.  In making this election all about him, he is doing his best to make this election about nothing.  It’s his “Seinfeld campaign.”  But in 2008, how can that be?  This is a time when the cost of carbon economically and environmentally is forcing the world’s countries to re-imagine the future.  To reward the constructive and punish the destructive.  To act.  To change.  To create the hard-won possibilities to compete in the economy ahead.

The full speech is one of the most eloquent I’ve heard coming out of the Canadian political front of late, which is all the more impressive because Mr. Dryden is best known in Canada for being a Montreal Canadiens goaltender. As a Liberal MP, though, he’s continued in the path he laid out for himself as one of the truly intellectual athletes out there, and he’s constantly used the spotlight well. The speech is well worth the read.

It would appear that this rant encapsulates one of the most prominent aspects of the ongoing election in Canada. It has broken down into a mediafest, with parties basing their entire platforms on one-liners. With the Conservatives, Harper is the epitome of “Leadership”. For the Liberals, it’s the “Green Shift”. The NDP, too, has had reasonable success at rebuilding their image of late with a new campaign stating “We Need a New Kind of Strong”. Of the so-called “major parties”, only the Bloc Quebecois and Green Party have been relatively innocuous on the media front — and neither is really a “power house” to begin with.

But amidst the furious media frenzy, a lot is being lost, and that’s precisely what Dryden’s trying to draw attention to. Harper may put forth the notion that he’s confident and powerful, but the question is where are we going? Though the marketing for each party is great, the same question seems to stun each leader when confronted with the need for an actual plan.

The irony is, neither Dryden nor any of his Liberal compatriots seem to be offering anything more substantial than Harper, really. Dion’s focus on the environment rings more of “ploy” than anything else, and beyond the one idea of fixing the environment — hardly an original notion — the Liberals seem every bit as hesitant to push a real agenda as the other parties. What it boils down to is that the Conservatives believe in minimalist government, the Liberals are scrambling to find any sort of image, the NDP’s union ideals lost any real meaning as minimum wage climbed as high as $8.75, and the Bloc are founded on radical Quebec seperatist ideals. Only the Green Party seems to have an established plan for governance, and even they are working largey from a theoretical framework. Most people point out (correctly) that the idealistic suggestions made by the Greens will have to be grounded eventually, regardless of whether they are genuinely as good as they would have Canadians believe.

The heavy debating has yet to get underway. Surely the leaders will begin to push their platforms a bit more when the big arguments get rolling. But thus far, this is looking like the least substantial election in a long time.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. aaron
    Sep 22, 2008 @ 10:29:30

    Ken Dryden does my alma mater proud (he’s a fellow Cornell alum).

    Stephen, I’m sorry to hear that Canadian politics are degenerating into the muck of American politics. Hopefully more thoughtful heads will prevail in both our countries.

    Reply

  2. Stephen
    Sep 22, 2008 @ 18:03:12

    Hi, Aaron. The post was written by my son, nebcanuck, the political science student.

    You’re right about Canadian politics spiralling downward, in an echo of American-style politics. Prime Minister Harper’s strategy consists primarily of taking cheap shots at the leader of the Liberal party. Beginning long before the election was called.

    So the election is about nothing, as nebcanuck says. Nothing except what a loser the other party’s leader is. Which is not so very different from the campaign McCain has been running.

    Reply

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